Oklahoma State University has selected Desire2Learn to replace WebCT & Blackboard. D2L will be available for use this fall and the changeover of 10,000 WebCT & Blackboard courses will be completed for January 2007.
Blackboard's general counsel Matthew Counsel recently remarked that the company supports open source because with its Building Blocks technology users can create their own "systems off Blackboard's basic platform."
Charles Severance (Executive Director, Sakai Project)comments: "I guess that means that PalmOS (to pick a random example) is also
Open Source as well since they have APIs and anyone can develop to
those APIs. The path to interoperability and free exchange of innovation *is*
for us to all to adopt and run Blackboard and then we can freely
innovate by exchanging Building Blocks - the logic is completely
What does Blackboard's patent cover? Except for some cagey statements, they just won't say. But from their public statements and the patent filing itself we can begin to piece together what Blackboard will most likely claim is their invention. Getting a clear fix on the purported invention should also guide us in the search for prior art.
Let's first enumerate Blackboard's public statements and then parse the meaning.
Matthew Small ("Inside Higher Ed" article): "Blackboard’s Small, however, said that much of the online anger is
based on a misreading of Blackboard’s patent. The patent has 44 parts,
he said, independent parts and dependent parts. The former are the
central claims and the latter parts only are relevant when applied to
the central claims. So a reference to chat rooms does not mean that
Blackboard claims to have invented them or has a right to royalties on
their use — unless they are part of a larger system that makes use of
Blackboard’s patented technologies, (emphasis mine) Small said. Much of the criticism
of Blackboard is based on reading the dependent patent clauses as if
they were independent."
Matthew Small (Chronicle article): "This is not a patent that covers all of e-learning," Mr. Small said. "It doesn't cover all course-management systems." One example of what the patent does cover, Mr. Small said, is the
method for giving a single user predefined roles in multiple online
courses. (emphasis mine) That's one of 44 functions described in the patent, which can
be found on the Web site of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. "Those features may be obvious today, but they weren't obvious at the
time they were invented," Mr. Small said. "They were really
transformative for the industry and took it to the next level."
Mr. Chasen. ("Letter to Clients"). "I’d like to start by providing background on the
history around our patent. After the release of our first products, we
looked at the course management system (CMS) technology available at
the time and identified improvements that would enable the CMS to
function as a true enterprise application for educational
institutions. (emphasis mine) We focused our resources on developing solutions with
the student-centric functionality which would allow the Blackboard CMS
to serve the increasingly complex needs of our clients."
Blackboard Press Release (July 26, 2006). "The patent covers core technology (emphasis mine) relating to
certain systems and methods involved in offering online education,
including course management systems and enterprise e-Learning systems."
English Translation of Claim 1 in the Patent. Claim 1 is the "independent claim" and describes the most important part of the patent. According to a text for drafting patents, "the main point to remember here is that your independent claims are the important ones, since they're the basic and broadest definitions of your invention." Here is the English Translation of Claim 1 from Michael Feldstein: "You have a system that is organized by courses. The system can be
accessed by different users from different computers. Users can access
multiple courses and can have different access privileges (emphasis mine) assigned to
each course based on the roles of student, instructor, and/or
Mr. Small. (AP Wire Article, Business Week): "Our developers sat down and said 'college IT departments are having a
lot of trouble managing all these disparate Web sites from each class.
How can we turn this into one computer program that manages all of the
classes?'" (emphasis mine) Small said. "That was a leap."
Let's put it all together and state now Blackboard's great claim to fame and the basis of its right to levy royalties. Here is what they are saying. "We are not claiming that we invented discussion forums, chats, blogs, wikis, or any of the specific tools in learning management systems. Nor are we claiming that we invented the concept of e-learning or course management systems. That would be absurd. Before we came along though these hicks in IT departments had a bunch of independent course web sites. And our developers were sitting around and we said like duh this is stupid. Why don't we create something that puts all the web sites together as part of one system! We were the first to describe (and implement) how the same student can access materials from multiple courses as part of single system. Similarly, we described (and implemented) how the same faculty member can distribute course material to multiple students in the same class or multiple classes. Eureka, by god that's what we invented! We are not claiming, therefore, to have invented any run-of-the-mill learning management system or specific tools learning management tools. No! No!
We invented (i.e. described) for the first time an ENTERPRISE learning management system that allows users to access resources from multiple courses based on role and permission."
Desire2Learn has made a specific request for prior art material: ---------- "We are continuing to gather examples of prior art and appreciate the
outpouring of help that has come from the higher-ed community and
At this time we are seeking specific user manuals and
documentation dated June 1999 or earlier from any of the following
- Blackboard - Prometheus - Web Course In A Box - WebCT - VirtualU - Lotus - MadDuck
Electronic copies can be mailed to PriorArt@Desire2Learn.com, and hard copies mailed to:
Prior Art c/o Desire2Learn 72 Victoria Street South Suite 401 Kitchener, Ontario N2G 4Y9 Canada
Thank you again for your assistance, it is greatly appreciated."